As spring football rolls around, it often creates more questions than answers. That’s the case as the 2005 Cavaliers head into camp. For the ‘Hoos, many of the answers they’ll be looking for might not be found until the fall. There are numerous injuries and several players who will miss most or all of spring camp due to injury or the necessity to concentrate on academics.
Because of that, the Cavaliers will not be at full strength and that could create issues as many younger players and some veterans need the time to develop.
My intent is not necessarily to answer the questions, but to lay out the areas I believe need to be addressed in order for Coach Groh and company to take the program another step forward in 2005.
The biggest questions this year revolve around replacing key components from the 2004 team, finding playable depth at several key positions and seeing some significant improvement in several units, most notably wide receiver and in the secondary.
According to Groh, “There are two areas every year you have to start all over again and make sure you get it the way you want, and that’s the offensive line and the secondary.”
Let’s start with the offensive line.
Talk about All-American quarterbacks, game-breaking wide receivers and 1,000-yard rushers all you want, but without a cohesive line, offenses will fail.
For Virginia, finding productive replacements for Elton Brown, one of the most dominating linemen in school if not ACC history, and center Zac Yarbrough, the glue of the ACC’s leading offensive front last season, is imperative.
The offensive line is the foundation of the team – the starting point for creating a championship team. The linemen function as a unit and measure their success in terms of the team’s success. They know that the team is more important than their individual games. And the key to an offensive line with continuity and good communications is the center.
“It all starts right there,” Groh says. “It’s the fulcrum around which everything revolves, not just physically but the guy in there is in charge of making a lot of the calls in terms of pass protection and run schemes, and Zac Yarbrough did a great job for us.”
The center controls the timing of the offense and therefore should be one of the best athletes on the line. Initially, the center must make the line calls both in the passing game and in the running scheme. He then must execute the exchange properly as well as executing all of his other assignments and blocking techniques. The position is both physically and mentally demanding.
And players don’t become good centers overnight. Virginia will begin the 2005 season with a center who has never started a collegiate game at the position. That’s a lot to ask of a young player. So the guy who takes over for Yarbrough will have a full plate.
The likely candidate is Ian-Yates Cunningham . An excellent technical blocker, especially in the passing game, and a very bright player, Cunningham has already displayed the explosion and agility necessary to man the position. He has good center size and has the luxury of having started five college games at guard.
Fighting for playing time is Jordy Lipsey , who, frankly, needs to start living up to his highly-touted status as a five-star recruit. The Florida native came to Virginia considered one of the top center prospects in the nation. He struggled during his redshirt year last season, especially with the pass-blocking aspect of the game, and will need to show marked improvement and do so quickly.
According to Groh, Lipsey has had a good off-season program and is ready to compete for the position.
D.J. Bell is also part of the mix at center but will
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